PARK CITY - One of the more intriguing aspects of the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival is just how unconventional it has been. Dramedies and films with slight sci-fi elements have been a mainstay of the festival's premier category, but straight comedies, zombies and supernatural horror? Well, that's something very new to the mix. One picture that mixes serious drama and supernatural elements in this year's dramatic competition premiered Sunday night, "Jamie Marks is Dead."
HBO's highly anticipated new series "Looking" finally debuted tonight and my biggest fear is there will now be a deluge of gay men who decide that San Francisco is now the city for them. We'll only be talking about the first episode in this post, but the overall series is so good that guys who really shouldn't be heading to the Bay Area will pack up that truck, er, KIA and head west in hopes of finding their own Patrick (Jonathan Groff). Wait until they find out how much he's paying in rent.
PARK CITY - Imagine you worked at a Hollywood studio and someone were to pitch you a movie set in the late '70s centered on a clinically diagnosed manic depressive raising his two young daughters all by himself. Your first thought would be to immediately question its commercial viability. Happily, Maya Forbes' directorial debut wasn't dependent on a studio. If it had been, there's no way this wonderfully unexpected tearjerker would have found its way to the big screen.
PARK CITY - This is probably the last thing co-writer and director Craig Johnson wants to hear, but watching his new dramedy "The Skeleton Twins" Saturday afternoon, I was struck by a recurring thought: Why didn't Lorne Michaels produce more movies like this one?
PARK CITY - The talk of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on Friday, the first full day of the festival, centered on some surprise hits ("Obvious Child"), a major disappointment ("God's Pocket") and an out-of-the-ordinary entry ("Frank"). One film that received strong notices, specifically for its performances, was the Guantanamo Bay-centered drama "Camp X-Ray."
PARK CITY - Transitioning from being in front of the camera to behind it is never easy. And, yes, there are just as many success stories (Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Ben Stiller) as disappointments (William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, David Duchovney), many of whom made this sad discovery at the Sundance Film Festival. On Monday, Sundance is celebrating the inaugural "Free Fail" event with a special day of workshops that will center on artists' failures and how they allowed them to eventually succeed. John Slattery, best known for his work on "Mad Men," may want to pop into a few for some tips after the world premiere of his feature directing debut "God's Pocket" Friday afternoon.
PARK CITY - In theory, casting a top-tier actor in your independent film is a godsend. They should elevate the material and help mask any flaws that a small budget or a shortened shooting schedule might cause. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. Often, said actor may seem out of place among the film's other talent or another aspect of the film is so weak — say, screenwriting or production design — that the film still fails overall. The latter, among other problems, is the issue with Ben Whishaw's casting in Hong Khaou's directorial debut "Lilting," which was one of four films to open the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Thursday night.
Landing an Academy Award is usually a moment someone will remember for the rest of his or her life. As "American Hustle" producer Richard Suckle noted this morning, he's been instructed to "take it all in and enjoy the moment." Because, unless you're Scott Rudin, this doesn't happen often.
It's always inevitable that the Academy will end up snubbing a deserving nominee in one category or another, but one big snub this year was Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell" in the feature documentary category. "Stories" won both the NYFCC and LAFCC best documentary honors and was a fixture on many critics' end-of-year top 10 lists. It was almost seen as a lock to make the cut, but appears to have been pushed out by either "Dirty Wars" or "Cutie and the Boxer." Leave it to the always classy Polley to send out a tweet flipping the narrative and heaping praise on one of the actual nominees, Joshua Oppenheimer for "The Act of Killing."
"American Hustle" and "Gravity" lead the nominees for the 86th Academy Awards, with nominations in 10 categories. "12 Years a Slave" is right on their heels with nine nods, while six other films made the Best Picture lineup. Full list of nominations below.